Mobile clinics cut costs, inappropriate ER use

Use of mobile clinics is on the rise among hospitals with low-income patient populations whose living situation is often too uncertain for them to visit hospitals, according to Marketplace.

For patients who don't drive or are often in a transitional state between shelters or apartments, mobile clinic vans make follow-up care easier, particularly for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Such patients' lack of options or access often lead them to seek routine care in emergency rooms. Now, however, the proliferation of the mobile clinic model is steering more and more of these patients in a different direction.

In 2015, 9,000 homeless Dallas residents, 1,500 of whom were children, got free care from the Parkland Homeless Outreach Medical Services Program's vans, according to the article. In the wake of its success, the program is considering adding social workers, dentists and psychologists to the mix. Similarly, this week health insurer Highmark premiered a new mobile clinic aimed at improving care access for members in remote parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, FierceHealthPayer reported. In South Florida, such clinics have been in use for nearly three years.

While it's expensive to get the vans on the road, the savings in averted emergency care more than make up for the costs, Caterina Hill, Harvard Medical School's principal investigator of public health quality and mobile clinics, told the publication. "We've estimated that an average visit to a mobile clinic costs the funder $155, but saves 12 times that in terms of long-term benefits and avoided emergency department visits," she said.

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